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Press Council head Katju appeals for pardon for Bhullar


New Delhi: Press Council of India chairman Markandey Katju Saturday wrote to President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appealing for pardon or commuting the death sentence of Khalistanti terrorist Devender Pal Singh Bhullar.

A day after the Supreme Court dismissed Bhullar’s plea challenging the rejection of his mercy petition by the president, Katju said there was nothing in Article 72 of the constitution to debar a second mercy petition if the first has been rejected. And since Article 72 – power of the president to grant pardons – does not state who can make the mercy petition, “Hence, I as a citizen of India am also entitled to move this mercy petition”, Katju wrote.

He also said that the apex court rejected Bhullar’s plea by a two-one majority and not by a unanimous decision.

“The senior most judge on the bench, Justice M.B. Shah, acquitted Bhullar. I have carefully perused the judgment of Justice M.B. Shah. Justice Shah has noticed that the only evidence against Bhullar is his alleged confessional statement to the investigating office,” Katju said.

Justice Shah has observed that “when the rest of the accused who are named in the confessional statement are not convicted or tried, this was not a fit case for convicting the appellant solely on the basis of the so called confessional statement recorded by the police officer”, Katju, a former apex court judge, said.

His letter was also addressed to Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde and the Delhi lieutenant governor.

He said though the judgment of the Supreme is the judgment of the majority of the three-judge bench in Bhullar’s case, “the president can agree with the minority view of Justice Shah”.

He said Bhullar has been in detention since his arrival in India in January 1995, i.e., over 18 years.

“I am not questioning the Supreme Court verdict delivered. However, I respectfully submit that Bhullar has already suffered prolonged mental agony and trauma for this long period on death row with a Damocles sword hanging over his head. Hence in pardon proceeding under Article 72 this is also one of the factors, among others, which the president should take into account in deciding this petition under Article 72.”

He said that Bhullar “has been having some chronic psychiatric problem. In these circumstances, considering all of them cumulatively, I respectfully request Your Excellency to pardon/commute the death sentence of Bhullar who has been on death row for a long period”.

Bhullar was given capital punishment for the 1993 blast at the Youth Congress office in Delhi which left nine dead. The attack was targeted against then Youth Congress leader M.S. Bitta.

Bhullar had filed a mercy petition on Jan 14, 2003, which was rejected by the president May 25, 2011.